Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Example of Studying Author's Voice and Writer's Craft With an Author Study

   I am sharing some posts which help to illustrate various ways to look at the author's voice and how the art of writer's craft is studied in an author's study. I originally posted this on my prior blog called Under the Tree and Reading.  I was a second grade classroom teacher when I wrote this post. The book Here We All Are (or the first book in the series 26 Fairmont Avenue) by Tomie dePaola can be used with 2-4 graders. 

DePaola, T. (2000). Here We All Are. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
     Tomie DePaola is always one of the first featured authors I delved into studying with my second graders each fall. My personal favorites of his are the ones that are auto-biographical in nature, perhaps partially or fully inspired by the truth. His distinctive drawing style is recognizable in any of his books, whether it's a story relating to his childhood or to series such as Strega Nona, the Barkers, or Bill and Pete. In his "26 Fairmont Avenue" series of memoirs, he writes the collection in beginning chapter book style, with illustrations that are in printed in black and white (except on the cover.) Here We All Are is the second in the series. This follows the book that launched the series, 26 Fairmont Avenue, which was a Newbery Honor winner.

     In Here We All Are, Tomie is 5 years old in this selection that picks up where the first memoir left off, and he writes in the voice and perspective of a young child, which makes his writing so accessible to children who love to “reflect on the good old days of when they were young.” (Kindergarten was so long ago to them, you know!) The voice DePaola writes in as Tomie is fresh and casual, nothing stuffy or all knowing at all, and that’s what my kids like. It’s like hearing him on the tape where he is talking to them, not at them. With the prior knowledge of our autobiographical picture books, the students and I  viewed a DePaola video clip. The students loved the first 26 Fairmount Avenue so much, I picked up the second one which I didn’t have. They felt like they were getting to sit and "visit" with him again. One of the things the kids laughed at was when Tomie said that his mom told him his furniture was “genuine maple” and “When no one was looking, I liked the bedpost to see if it tasted like maple syrup or the maple candies we got sometimes. It didn’t.” You can hear his disappointment punctuated with the two word sentence at the end, but the kids think it’s cool that he shared that goofy, embarrassing thing he did as a child with them. Just as when I read the first book in the series, the students were able to make text-to-text connections to some of his picture books, such as when he discusses how his Kindergarten teacher mixed powder paints and how awful they were (as in The Art Lesson.) He also explains things in a simple, concise way if he feels the reader may not understand, such as what a lavatory is or a “monitor top” refrigerator, so to introduce a few things from the past without going overboard. The kids get to “visit” with Tom and his Nana again, just like in the picture book Tom, and hear about Nana Fall River visiting to take care of him when his new baby sister is born. Overall, this edition is a light, fresh read of DePaola reminiscing with the reader at a very readable, identifiable level.

     One quote that I have printed up that DePaola said I extract from his website  is when he says that his job as an illustrator is to “make the invisible visible.” Three more that I highlight with my students comes from his video tape which we have at our school media center. One quote is: “Be willing to practice over and over again. Be willing to fix your writing.” The second is: “If you read books, you can read everything about anything and anything about everything.” The last one is: “If you want to be a writer, you have to read, because that’s how you learn about writing.” I think those three quotes are particularly powerful because my students hear Tomie talking to them as near equals, and I always try to set that tone with my students. They are being told they are not just writers, but authors. With DePaola’s role modeling of fun fantasy stories as well as his memoirs straight from everyday memories from growing up where he remembers what it’s like to be a kid, my students seem to have a special respect for him. DePaola is a mentor author to these apprenticing students who are finding their own voice as authors!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Texts That Feature Unusual Animal Relationships

     What child doesn't find some animal interesting? Do you remember the true story about an unusual relationship between a gorilla named Koko and a pet kitty? It was featured in the book Koko's Kitten (Reading Rainbow Book) by Dr. Francine Patterson and Ronald H. Cohn (Scholastic, 1987). Well, there's so many great books that have come out about animal relationships over the past five years that sharing one for a read aloud is easy to do! These texts make for a great way to incorporate comparing and contrasting, as well as great writing springboards. Even the most reluctant readers are intrigued at these unusual relationships. Here are a few of the great titles that you can feature with elementary age students. Whether in K or 5th grade, there's a selection that you can use. These true stories full of real photos act as a great venue for describing acceptance, resiliency, and being adaptable. Your children will be entranced! 

Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby (Putnam, 2010)  

     This is a story of a runt pig named Pink who is brought indoors to be taken care of. The mother dachshund of the house, Tink, adopts Pink into her litter. This is great for Kindergarten and first graders. Here's a bonus! You can read it online for FREE via the great website We Give Books. Click here to go directly to that link, and you can share it with your students up on the computer screen or enjoy it at home with your family. :) 

Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley (Putnam, 2009)

     Tarra is a elephant resident at a sanctuary in Tennessee. She came there because she is a former circus animal. Bella, a stray yellow lab, sneaks in and Tarra and Bella form a loyal bond that's unbreakable. Their dedication to one another is certainly proven after Bella suffered a serious spinal injury. Tarra doesn't leave Bella's side throughout it all! :) Now that's loyalty! Here's a video where you can learn more about Tarra and Bella.

 Suryia and Roscoe: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship written by Dr. Bagavan Antle and Thea Feldman with photographs by Barry Bland (Henry Holt, 2011) 

Roscoe, who is a blue tick hound, becomes friends with an orangutan named Suryia who comes to the wildlife preserve for endangered animals in South Carolina. The human like qualities displayed by the orangutan, such as trying to feed Roscoe or standing upright to walk him with a leash, is certainly eye catching to readers. Children feel a connection to the orangutan because of the human like behavior it displays. Check out the video clip to see more about Suryia and Roscoe. They are endearing!

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Paula Kahumbu with photographs by Peter Greste (Scholastic Press, 2006) 
Owen and Mzee: Language of Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Paula Kahumbu with photographs by Peter Greste (Scholastic Press, 2007)  
      These two trade books are about a baby hippo named Owen that was separated from his mother in a tsunami in 2004. Owen was adopted by Mzee, a male tortoise that is estimated to be 130 years old. They learned to adapt, communicate, and care for one another. Although their relationship is unconventional, it is amazing. (There are even some board books also from Scholastic to introduce the two creatures to the youngest of readers. :)  
      Here's several bonuses for Owen and Mzee. Check out Owen and Mzee's wonderful website that is great for complementing the read aloud of these books. You can share the rebus stories with younger students or view the documentary with older students to extend the adventure of sharing these texts. The site features a video link from an episode of PBS's Between the Lions. 

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin, 2011) 
     The text is short in this selection, so it's perfect for pre-K through first grade. Check out a little preview through this video clip:

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer Holland (Workman, 2011) - This text may not be a cover to cover read aloud since it is written for adults. However, it is great for sharing some stories and the photos from the book. Older elementary students will enjoy this. I personally own this book and I've shared photos from it with students. Here's a bonus clip about the book:


Enjoy exploring these animal friendly texts with your children!